Dear EarthTalk: My body doesn’t tolerate cheese well. Are there dairy-free cheeses that will be easier on my constitution and better for the environment, too? -- Steve Sullivan, Seattle, WA
With some 30 to 50 million Americans suffering from various degrees of lactose intolerance, and an estimated three million of us now eating animal-free (vegan) diets for humane, environmental and/or health reasons, the production of alternatives to dairy products has started to become big business.
But while substitutes for milks and ice creams abound, mostly soy- or rice-based blends that have come a long way since they first appeared on grocery shelves, finding satisfactory alternatives to the many varieties of cheese can be a challenge. But the choices are expanding rapidly.
The first place to look might just be your regular supermarket’s produce section—that’s often where you’ll find Galaxy Foods’ Veggie line of non-dairy cheeses. After all, they are made from soy, a crop. Galaxy’s offerings come shredded, grated, in slices and in hunks. Fans swear they taste just like the real thing. And they are all excellent sources of calcium without cholesterol, saturated/trans-fats or lactose.
Galaxy also offers cheeses made from rice. And while some of both the Rice Brand and Veggie line contain small amounts of cultured milk salt, dried skim milk protein and trace amounts of lactose, Galaxy also make two purely vegan varieties, usually found in the dairy sections of grocery or health food stores.
A few other popular brands made with rice include Rice Slices and Lifetime Low Fat Jalapeno Jack Rice Cheese. Check the shelves of your local organic or natural food market to find one or more to sample.
Another leading producer of dairy-free cheeses is Scotland’s Bute Island Foods. The company began making its own vegan hard cheese alternatives (sold under the Sheese brand name) in 1988, and has since expanded into cream cheese alternatives (Creamy Sheese) as well. From pizzas to sauces to sandwiches to spreads, Bute Island has vegan and lactose-intolerant cheese lovers covered.
Some other soy-based choices that get good reviews include Good Slice Cheddar Style Cheese Alternative (great for sandwiches), vegan-friendly Tofutti Soy Cheese Slices, Follow Your Heart’s Vegan Gourmet (pizza, anyone?), and Teese (it melts with the best of them), among others.
Do-it-yourselfers might want to experiment with making their own non-dairy cheese using ingredients such as tofu and yeast. A quick web search will yield many recipes for making cheese and for using non-dairy cheeses in favorite dishes. Many of the best are collected in Joanne Stepaniak’s The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, available in some bookstores as well as from Amazon.com and other online vendors.
With so many good choices, not to mention recipes for home cooked varieties, many a vegetarian may just make the leap into full-fledged vegan eating. And existing vegans can rejoice: French Onion Soup (dairy-free, of course) is back on the menu.
Dear EarthTalk: Can those energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs that are popular now cause headaches because of the flickering they do? I converted my whole house over last fall and both my kids were complaining of headaches on and off. -- Sandy, Eugene, OR
With a switch to energy efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs already in full swing in the U.S. and elsewhere—Australia has banned incandescents, Britain will soon, and the U.S. begins a phase-out of incandescents in 2012—more and more complaints have arisen about the new bulbs causing headaches.
Many experts say that the issue is being overblown, however, that there is no scientific evidence that the bulbs cause headaches and that a kind of hysteria has grown out of a small number of anecdotal reports.
Industry experts acknowledge that day-to-day exposure to older, magnetically ballasted long tube fluorescent bulbs found mostly in industrial and institutional settings could cause headaches due to their noticeable flicker rate. The human brain can detect the 60 cycles per second such older bulbs need to refresh themselves to keep putting out light.
However, modern, electronically ballasted CFLs refresh themselves at between 10,000 and 40,000 cycles per second, rates too fast for the human eye or brain to detect. “As far as I’m aware there is no association between headaches and the use of compact fluorescent lamps,” says Phil Scarbro of Energy Federation Incorporated (EFI), a leading distributor of energy efficiency-related products—including many CFLs.
But Magda Havas, an Environmental & Resource Studies Ph.D. at Canada’s Trent University, says that some CFLs emit radio frequency radiation that can cause fatigue, dizziness, ringing in the ears, eyestrain, even migraines. You can test to see if CFLs in your home give off such radiation, she says, by putting a portable AM radio near one that’s on and listening for extra static the closer you get. She says that such electromagnetic interference should also be of concern to people using cell phones and wireless computers.
Sometimes headaches are due to eyestrain from inadequate lighting. When replacing an incandescent bulb with a CFL, pay attention to the lumens, which indicate the amount of light a bulb gives out (watts measure the energy use of a bulb, not the light generated). A 40-watt incandescent bulb can be replaced by an 11-14 watt CFL because the lumen ouput is approximately the same (490); a 100-watt incandescent can be replaced by a 26-29 watt CFL, both providing about 1,750 lumens. If you’re still skeptical, replace a 40-watt incandescent with a 60-watt equivalent 15-19 watt CFL, which will boost lumens to 900.
Another consideration is color temperature (measured in degrees “Kelvin”). CFLs rated at 2,700 Kelvin give off light in the more pleasing red/yellow end of the color spectrum, closer to that of most incandescents. Bulbs rated at 5,000 Kelvin and above (usually older ones) give off a less pleasing white/blue light.
The Environmental Defense website provides a handy chart comparing the watts and lumens of incandescents versus CFLs, along with further discussion about color temperature.